Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Jacksonville-Baldwin Trail

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In August 1990, the City of Jacksonville applied to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for acquisition of an abandoned railroad corridor. In December 1992, the abandoned railroad corridor was purchased from CSX Transportation Inc., through the Florida Greenways and Trails Program. This trail is part of a nation-wide, federally initiated 'Rails to Trails' program designed to turn abandoned railroad lines into multiuse paths. The Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail is a 100 foot wide Right-of-Way currently extending approximately 14.5 miles from Imeson Road in Jacksonville to the Town of Baldwin. A 12’ wide paved trail currently exists for hikers, bikers and roller-bladers to enjoy. An equestrian trail parallels the paved trail. The trail is flat and passes through mostly rural areas with abundant plant life, wildlife and trees. The trail has access to the Camp Milton Historic Preserve, which serves as a mid-point trailhead.

My first visit to the Jacksonville-Baldwin Trail on 3-28-12. My second on 5-17-13. I was really looking forward to bicyling here. This is a 15.5 mile former rail corridor that starts 5 miles west of Jacksonville at the Imeson Road trailhead and ends in the small town of Baldwin (2.1 miles west of the historic train depot trailhead). A perfect place to park and start your ride (located roughly in the middle of the trail) is at Camp Milton Historic State Park located at 1175 Halsema Road North off Highway 90. There is no fee to park and visit here. Camp Milton has an entrance to the Jacksonville-Baldwin Trail (clean and modern rest rooms are also at the trail access), and it has lots of pavement and boardwalk area which makes it a very bicycle friendly place. In 1864, Camp Milton was considered the largest encampment of Confederate forces in Florida with over 8,000 troops. It was also the site of several encounters between Confederate and Union armies. Camp Milton finally fell to occupation by the Union army in the summer of 1864. So this place is rich in history.

I stopped at the Imeson Road Trailhead on 5-17-13, my second visit to this trail. The trailhead address is 1800 Imeson Road Jacksonville Florida. I read somewhere that this was a very remote trailhead and the recommendation was not to park or start your ride here because of safety concerns. That information is not true and inaccurate. Imeson Road is a fantastic trailhead. My visit there was on a Friday morning, when most people are probably working, and it was busy. Located right off Commonwealth Avenue, sporadic houses run along here, then west of Imeson Road more businesses spread out. Also you will find nice new facilities with water. A real bonus for sure. Also there is an equestrian trail here. Also driving from the Imeson Road trailhead to Camp Milton is 8.2 miles.

I would suggest starting your ride from Camp Milton. The parking area is next to and faces Halsema Road. No fee here to use. Next to the front entrance sign you will see a sidewalk going along the fence line. Take that to stay off the road and it will take you across a tiny bridge, through a dense canopy, and right to the trail. A beautiful super short ride. Turn right to go east towards Imeson Road Trailhead (Camp Milton-Jacksonville-Baldwin restrooms will be a short distance on the right), or turn left, cross Halsema Road, and head west about 4 miles to the Baldwin Trailhead. From Camp Milton to Imeson Road trailhead it's 7.7 miles.

The Baldwin Trailhead is very hard to find if you're driving. You have to be in the town of Baldwin for anybody to know where it is. I was fortunate enough on my March 2012 visit to see a school crossing guard on Highway 90 (which goes through the downtown) who knew exactly how to get there. Everybody's Restaurant is on the corner of Highway 90 and Center Street North. That is where you turn. Now follow the road until you see The Jacksonville Baldwin Senior Community Center at 850 Center Street North. It will be on your left. Go past there to the next street and turn left. You will see a red caboose and a long parking lot. You've arrived.

Also a great place to stay close to the trail is the Marriott Fairfield Inn located at 561 Chaffee Point Blvd. This is a top rated hotel on Trip Advisor. It's only 3.6 miles from Camp Milton, and 8.2 miles from the Imeson Road trailhead.

This trail was incredible and far exceded my expectations. Even though it is mainly straight, the almost solid and continuous thick wooded canopy makes for a very shaded and scenic ride. Riders are also surrounded on both sides by various degrees of thick foliage and scrub, along with many pine, oak, and cypress trees. It was just amazing. While I heard lots of birds on my ride, I saw very few. Squirrels were very plentiful but nothing more. Also look for sandy areas where gopher tortoise love to move around. I also encountered many locals who were very friendly and willing to stop and answer my inquiries about the trail and area. Overall two thumbs up for the Jacksonville-Baldwin Trail. Would I ride here again. In a heartbeat. Don't miss this incredible adventure.